Anyone charged with a crime in Florida generally has the right to have the case decided by a jury. Closing arguments are an essential part of any jury trial. They allow lawyers for both sides one last opportunity to summarize the case for the people tasked with determining guilt or innocence. As Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal recently pointed out, however, there are some things that a prosecutor can’t say during that summary.
A defendant was charged with three crimes, including armed burglary of a dwelling. Prosecutors alleged at trial that he was fleeing from police when he entered into an unidentified home. Florida law defines burglary of a dwelling as the entering of a dwelling without an invitation and with the intent to commit a crime inside.
During closing arguments, a prosecutor told the jury that it was required to find the defendant guilty of the charge, even if they believed his version of the events. That’s because, according to the prosecutor, the defendant was committing the crime of resisting a police officer when he entered the dwelling. The prosecutor also said that the defendant’s demeanor when he testified clearly showed that he was guilty.
“He’s being accused of armed burglary of a dwelling,” the prosecutor said. “He should be yelling, screaming `I didn’t do this.’ He should be yelling and screaming. Yet, he was stuttering over his words. He couldn’t even get his story out.”
The defendant was convicted on all three charges. He later appealed that decision, arguing that the prosecutor’s statements during closing arguments were improper. The Fifth District agreed.
The court said the prosecutor inaccurately described the law when he told the jury that the defendant admitted to committing the crime of resisting a police officer when he entered the dwelling. The court explained that Florida law makes it a crime to willfully flee or attempt to elude “a law enforcement officer in an authorized law enforcement patrol vehicle, with agency insignia and other jurisdictional markings prominently displayed on the vehicle, with siren and lights activated.” State law also makes it a crime to resist an officer “in the execution of legal process or in the lawful execution of any legal duty.” In this case, however, the court said there was no evidence showing that an officer had his siren or lights activated when the defendant entered the house. There was also no evidence that an officer had attempted to detain or arrest the defendant, according to the court.
The appeals court also said it wasn’t appropriate to try to force the defendant to prove his innocence through his demeanor on the witness stand. The burden in any criminal case is at all times on the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person charged with the crime actually committed it.
As a result, the court overturned the defendant’s conviction.
If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced attorney. Tampa burglary defense lawyer Will Hanlon is a seasoned attorney who fights aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a wide range of offenses. Call our offices at (813) 228-7095 or contact us online to speak with Mr. Hanlon about your case.